Updated: Apr 1
[Commentary on Luke 24:1-12] Jesus Christ is alive! We should never cease to be astonished and overjoyed by this incredible declaration. It changed the world; it changed our lives.
Do not look for the living among the dead. He is not here, but He has risen! Luke 24:6
[Editor's note: this Bible study supplement started as a printed newsletter for teachers, which is why it is so text-heavy. I am slowly adding older lessons to our website.]
Seeing Is (Isn't?) Believing
I love it when my brain doesn't believe what my eyes see. These comes in two categories: things that are simply amazing, and actual optical illusions. They're both great. Here are some images/videos I simply find amazing. I'd love for you to start thinking about your own list. We might have time to share on Sunday morning, but at the least I'd love for you to amaze your friends and family with whatever amazing images or videos you find.
What I love most is that there are perfectly natural and reasonable explanations for each one of those pictures. Even that incredible magic routine is based purely on sleight-of-hand and misdirection. (Sarah and I love to watch magic acts.) Knowing that those things are explicable doesn't change the wonder for me.
I also love optical illusions. When I was in high school, I was introduced to MC Escher. I hope you're familiar . . .
Optical illusions are now a common thing. TV broadcasts have realized how effective they can be in love sports. People do amazing chalk art based on such tricks of the eye. They even show up in parking garages! And I can't help but include a music video from a very quirky group, OK Go, who put an astonishing amount of effort into their incredible videos. This particular video is full of optical illusions.
To make a long story short, I love it when my brain doesn't believe what my eyes are showing it. It makes the world a wonderful and exciting place. I hope that's true for you! Maybe if we don't lose the wonder of being amazed, we won't lose the wonder of the news that Jesus' tomb is empty . . .
I want us to watch this video made by the BibleProject that covers our passage. I think it puts everything into perspective for us. (Note: we're only covering the first part of the chapter in our lesson.)
Our Context in Luke
The worst has happened. Jesus has died, and now His followers cower in fear. Never mind how many times He told them that these things had to happen! That was then, and this is now. Jesus died on Friday, about 3:00 PM. Joseph of Arimathea, a good member of the Sanhedrin who had opposed their actions, asked Pilate for permission to bury Jesus' body (it was disgraceful for a body to be left out overnight). Joseph graciously placed Jesus in a new tomb, a very great honor in a land where prime burial space was already becoming scarce. He prepared Jesus' body as best he could (with the help of Nicodemus), and then had to leave. Saturday (the Sabbath) was beginning soon, and Jews could do no work on that day. A group of women who had been followers of Jesus observed all of these things, and they also noted that Pilate had sealed the tomb and set a guard in front of it. And then they also went home and got ready to return on Sunday.
The thing to catch here is that everybody is acting as if Jesus is dead and they're responsible for His corpse.
Discovered - Luke 24:1-3
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
I really don't know what you want or need to talk about this Easter. Some of you have lived through enough Easters to know the entire story by heart. Maybe I just need to keep things fresh for you. I'll inject some "study material" that you might find interesting. I'll also include this slider of music videos that I like for Easter. There are SO MANY great songs written about the resurrection. I was trying to catch one from a range of artists. Maybe this list will inspire you to search for your own list. Here's a bonus tutorial:
Creating a Playlist in YouTube:
If you have a YouTube account (they're free), you can save any video to a playlist you create. It's easy:
Find a video you like
Under the video on the right is a "Save" button
Create a new playlist or add to an existing playlist
After you create it, you can make your list "Private"
Now, as you're coming up with your own list of inspiring Easter videos, you don't have to go looking for them again. And if you want to share your list with a friend, you can. Note: you can do the same in Pandora or Spotify etc. with audio tracks.
Now, to the text. You know that the first day of the week is Sunday. "Very early in the morning" is explained in Matthew 28:1 to be "before dawn" and in John 20:1 to be "while still dark". But hang on - Mark says "just after sunrise". What gives? Well, take a look at the map below. It's possible that the women were carrying heavy spices a long way. They easily could have left their house while dark and not arrived at the tomb until light. In fact, let me just interject a harmony of the Gospels:
That seems like discrepancies, right? And that's not even mentioning John's description of Jesus' encounter with Mary Magdalene by herself (20:11-18).
Obviously, I don't think there are any discrepancies. I mentioned above how the "before dawn" and "after dawn" comments make sense narratively. Here's one of several ways you can tell this story. An angel rolls the stone away and frightens the guards. Then he enters the tomb (or maybe he just appears there BECAUSE HE'S AN ANGEL). The women--a group which includes at least four women and maybe more--arrive at the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene immediately leaves to tell the disciples. The remaining women meet the angels in the tomb but out of astonishment delay their report until after they meet Jesus. In the meantime, Peter and James and Mary come to the tomb, and Mary stays long enough to meet the two angels, then Jesus.
The fact that the details are different doesn't bother me at all because they are not mutually exclusive. Maybe just one angel did the talking, so Matthew and Mark key in on him. Maybe the different audiences of the Gospels would have been familiar with Joanna or Salome and that's why they were singled out. I don't think that's a problem. It would have been years before the research for the Gospels was conducted. Ask my family members about a significant event that happened years ago, and each of us will remember unique details. We're not lying; we just remember differently.
In fact, try this exercise with your family. Think of a major event (major to your family) that happened several years ago and ask everyone to give their recollection. As you talk, you will get a lot of "that's right!" and "oh now I remember!". It's just the way our brain works. We're studying Luke's Gospel right now; Luke did careful research in Jerusalem, probably while Paul was visiting the apostles. These are the details that stuck out to them.
Of course, the whole point of these verses is the string of unexpected events:
The guards are not at their post
The stone has been rolled away
The tomb is empty
And, oh yeah, ANGELS
We've heard this story (third-hand, I might add) so many times, we probably lose sight of just how bewildered the women will be at this point. They're already emotionally spent. Surely they're at the "I can't take any more surprises" stage. And then all of this happens. Does it seem like a dream, do you think?
Reported - Luke 24:4-9
While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. “He is not here, but he has risen! Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, saying, ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” And they remembered his words. Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest.
"Perplexed" is such a great word. Synonyms include baffled, dumbfounded, bewildered, mystified, and flummoxed. Those are also great words. And I don't think they come close to what the women were experiencing. The Greek word literally means "to be without a way". In other words, they lost the ability to think about anything except for that moment. Wow. And the angel gives them the most wonderful, gentle scolding - "Why are you looking for Jesus here? A tomb is for dead people. Jesus isn't dead. Don't you remember what He said?" So obvious, so simple, and yet no one understood.
The angel uses language "it is necessary". Was all of what happened "necessary"? Well, yes--if we want to be saved and live eternally with God. Jesus had to die to pay the price for our sins. And He had to rise again for the curse of death to be destroyed.
This would be the perfect time for you to go and read 1 Corinthians 15 -- the whole chapter. We cannot read that chapter enough! If you want to be encouraged, challenged, focused, and set on Jesus. That's the place to go on Easter week.
And then the women remembered. But please, don't be hard on them any more than we should be hard on Thomas for doubting. Read the Gospels carefully -- all of the disciples had to be convinced that Jesus was alive, and for most of them it took seeing Jesus with their own eyes. "Remember all those things Jesus said? This is what they meant." It's the proverbial "lightbulb going off". Most of us have had that happen in school at some point, usually in math or a physical science. We're looking at these equations or formulas and we don't know what to do with them. And then, all of a sudden, something clicks and it makes sense? That's one of my favorite memories from my school days -- the "aha" moment. Well, this was the ultimate "aha" moment for the women. What do you think they felt at that moment? Shocked? Embarrassed? Relieved? Giddy? Annoyed with themselves? Awestruck? Maybe a little of everything? There are a few moments in history I would hugely want to experience: the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the first step on the moon, the Gettysburg Address, crossing the Red Sea, and this -- discovering the empty tomb. (Your list may differ.)
Now, Luke simply says that the women returned and reported what they saw. From the rest of the Gospel accounts, I don't think this happened straightaway. I think they still had to encounter Jesus Himself before working up the courage to report this unbelievable news to the disciples. And note the "all the rest". There was a committed group of Jesus-followers beyond the Twelve (now Eleven), and they would become critically important in the days ahead.
Confirmed - Luke 24:10-12
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went away, amazed at what had happened.
As the women probably feared, the disciples thought they were mad, thought they were babbling weakminded ninnies, unable to process the gravity of their situation and grasping at straws. Never mind that they were right! Never mind that they were the ones with the courage to go to the tomb and be the first to hear the news and actually see Jesus with their own eyes! No, it wasn't the disciples to receive that blessing. Why? Because they were hiding. Thank goodness that Peter (and John) had the audacity to realize that the women might be onto something. According to John's Gospel, Peter actually went into the tomb while John waited outside. There was no body. What's more, there was no stench. Jesus' body didn't decay, even before He returned to it.
I particularly like the word-for-word movies versions of the Gospels of Matthew and John. We played the Triumphal Entry scene from John in our Palm Sunday service. Here is the empty tomb scene from Matthew (it should start almost at the end of the video at verse 28:1; the minute timer should be 36:07). Sometimes seeing it (a dramatized version of it) helps.
We know from John, and later from Paul, that Jesus appeared multiple times to the disciples and also to many more people. The Jewish attempt to squash this movement would fail. And gospel of Jesus Christ would prevail. And the rest is history. Our situation (relying so much on social media) reminds me of a video that was put together years ago:
Pretty neat, huh? When we talk about this passage on Sunday morning, we are going to focus on the "it is necessary" phrase as well as the "nonsense" comment. Why do people today think of the Bible and the message of Jesus as nonsense? And why is the "nonsense" part of our message so absolutely necessary?
Anyway, that's a whole lot for you to digest. You have plenty of time to do it. I hope (even if it's raining) you have a sunrise worship experience at your home on Sunday morning. Then join us for Easter Bible study at 9:30. Then head online to observe an Easter worship service that inspires you to more personal worship in your families. We thank God for the good news, the nonsense, and the amazement that is the proof of our eternal life with God.